Should the PM always be a member of Lok Sabha?

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Plenty of reasons—good, bad, ugly, silly—have been dredged up by those supporting and opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal. But of the all points raised by those who would not like India to sign the dotted line and toe the American line, none is curiouser than the sudden doubts that have arisen in their minds on the legitimacy of the office of the prime minister.

Yes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

For four years and more, there has been no confusion about prime minister Manmohan Singh’s status.

There were no doubts when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was unveiling the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. There were no doubts when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was announcing farm packages and farm loan waivers. There were no doubts when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was implementing the pay panel commission’s recommendations. Etcetera.

All that was OK.

But the sight of the same Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushing the nuclear deal has them all shuffling around nervously: Can a prime minister, they ask, who is only a Rajya Sabha member, and not an elected member of the Lok Sabha, really override the opposition of the people to the deal?

The underlying assumption here is that with the majority of members in the Lok Sabha—the house of the people—are against the nuclear deal. So, can a man who is only a representative of the States, the Rajya Sabha, ride roughshod over the voice of the people?

Even if the ruling alliance somehow cobbles up a majority in the house of the people?

In an July 1 editorial titled “Short-sighted adventurism“, The Hindu editorialised a point made by its editor N. Ram, a former collegemate of CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, on a CNN-IBN show a few days earlier.

Curiously, it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has no known electoral base and holds office by virtue of being a member of the Rajya Sabha, who has been allowed to pull the trigger on the political arrangement that sustains his minority government.”

The Times of India‘s editorial advisor Gautam Adhikari provided what seemed like a fine rebuttal on the same show, hosted by Sagarika Ghose, one which Ram ducked with a smile.

“Prakash Karat has no electoral base either and is not even a member of the Rajya Sabha.”

In other words, is sauce for the Oxbridge goose not sauce for the Madras Christian College gander?

A lay reader from Madras, Amaruvi Devanathan, calls the bluff in today’s Hindu:

“It does not matter whether the Prime Minister is from the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. Dr Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha when he apologised in Parliament for the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Was it not valid? What about the various policy announcements made from the Red Fort during Independence Day addresses to the nation? Should they be declared null and void because of the Rajya Sabha membership of Dr Singh?”

So, does the PM have the right to go ahead with the n-deal despite only being a Rajya Sabha member? Is prime minister Manmohan Singh any less of a prime minister because he represents the States, not the people? Is this episode a cautionary lesson: should it made mandatory for the prime minister to be an elected representative of the people?

More importantly, would the communists have been asking this question, if the n-deal was being signed with Russia or China in similar circumstances?

Photograph: courtesy Associated Press via BBC

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